Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Buck Doesn’t Stop Here

Here’s a film that promises oodily, oodily, oodily, oodily fun fun fun, according to the Gwendolyn Sanford tune that plays under the opening credits. The kind of oodily fun that may make some viewers squirm in their seats.

You can look at Chuck & Buck (2000) in two ways--as a quirky, offbeat love story, or as the dark and disturbing tale of a relentless stalker and the enigmatic object of his obsession. This strangely entertaining film works on both levels.

Possibly autistic, definitely obsessive, Buck (Mike White) has led a sheltered life as caregiver for his ailing mother, who has just died. He moves to L.A. to seek out his childhood friend Chuck Sitter (Chris Weitz), who moved away when both were still boys. Trapped in a perpetual childhood surrounded by toys and stuffed animals, Buck is ill at ease in the “real world”  and longs for the days when he and Chuck created a fantasy world of their own.

Mike White as Buck
Chris Weitz as Chuck
But Chuck has erased his childhood identity completely--he’s now no longer Buck’s BFF Chuck at all but Charlie, a successful, seemingly self-assured man with a beautiful fiancee, a high-powered career as a talent agent and a showplace of a home--a typical Hollywood narcissist. And he wants absolutely nothing to do with his socially awkward, embarrassingly blunt childhood buddy. But that doesn’t stop Buck.

And you can’t blame Charlie’s reticence, especially when Buck shows up at his door unexpectedly and suggests that the two resume their secret childhood games, including a round of the old “Chuck and Buck s*ck and f*ck,” with Charlie’s fiancee Carlyn (Beth Colt) in the next room.

Buck’s hopes for a reunion with Chuck— hanging out, climbing trees, and playing secret sex games—are dashed when Charlie is cold and unresponsive and avoids him like the plague. But Buck will not be ignored and begins to stalk Charlie and Carlyn, calling and hanging up repeatedly and even peeping through the window to watch the couple make love.

Lupe Ontiveros as Beverly
Maya Rudolph as Jamilla
But despite Buck’s displays of creepy and perverse behavior, Mike White (who also wrote the script) makes his protagonist ultimately sympathetic. The audience feels Buck’s sense of loneliness, isolation and desire to be loved and to belong. Throughout the film, Buck struggles to make sense of his situation, reaching out to others and exorcising his demons by writing a play about his childhood relationship with Chuck. White and director Miguel Arteta tell the story completely from Buck’s point of view, and the plot’s surprising twists vindicate the character in the end, despite his obsessions and aberrations.

Buck and Carlyn (Beth Colt)
Buck and Sam (Paul Weitz)
Chris Weitz is suitably inscrutable in his role of the cool and aloof Charlie/Chuck. Chris’s brother Paul Weitz takes the role of the moronic actor hired by Buck to play the surrogate for Chuck in Buck’s fairy tale play. (The Weitz brothers’ mom happens to be Susan Kohner, Academy Award nominee for the movie classic Imitation of Life.)

Standout supporting performances add heart, soul and humor to the proceedings. The wonderfully down-to-earth Lupe Ontiveros (Real Women Have Curves, Desperate Housewives)  is endearing as Beverly, the theater house manager whose crusty and cynical exterior protects hopes and dreams for creative achievement that are unlocked by Buck and his strange play.

Charlie’s beleaguered assistant Jamilla is played perfectly by the talented and expressive Maya Rudolph (of Saturday Night Live fame), who can convey more with a roll of her eyes than most actors can do with a five-minute monologue in extreme close-up. When Buck bursts into tears when Chuck refuses to see him, Jamilla is shattered as well, her eyes welling up with tears of her own.

This unusual indie effort led many of its participants to mainstream success. Today, Mike White is well known as the writer and cocreator of the critically acclaimed Showtime series Enlightened starring Laura Dern. The Weitz brothers are the successful producers of films including About a Boy and the American Pie series. Rudolph is now a full-fledged movie star, thanks to her appearances in big hits like Bridesmaids. But they first made their marks by taking chances and pushing the creative envelope to expand the scope of film’s examination of the human experience.

Chuck & Buck is definitely oodily fun, fun, fun for film lovers...yeah.